of it all
Since the early 1990s, hunters,
especially in the Clearwater Region,
have voiced concerns about the numbers of big, branch-antlered bulls they were (or weren’t) seeing. Herd analysis showed that in some management units, the ratio of mature bulls to cows was much lower than in others. The Fish and Game Commission asked wildlife biologists to determine what this would mean to the future of elk hunting in Idaho.
Wildlife Bureau research showed that herds with at least 10 mature bulls per 100 cows are more productive than herds with more young bulls. This is because mature bulls breed more cows early in the rut, resulting in earlier calving, so that most calves are born over a shorter period of time. Early-born calves are bigger when winter comes and have a better chance of survival. Cows are healthier, too, because they are not lactating in late summer when forage is depleted. They enter the rut in better shape, and are less subject to delayed or skipped conception. Predation is less when calves are born over a short period, too.
As a result, in October 1996 the Commission adopted the recommended biological goal of 10 mature bulls per 100 cows after hunting season. This means an actual total of 20 bulls left per 100 cows, of which 10 would be mature.
In the Clearwater Region, units 8, 8A, 10, 10A, 11, 13, 14, 15 16 and 19 did not meet the biological goal. Elsewhere, units 22, 28, 32, 32A, 36B, 64, 66 and 69 did not. Biologists predicted that if no change was made in management, within five years elk populations might not meet the goal in 27 of 86 units. (See “A Turning Point for Elk Hunters and Elk Hunting, Idaho Wildlife Magazine, Winter ‘97)
Department biologists and public representatives around the state identified options for managing elk and deer and asked for hunters’ comments and preferences. These teams came up with many ways to improve herds in units that needed help without shifting hunting pressure too heavily to other units. Most of the options, however, were distasteful to most of the participants.
Options that could meet the biological objectives included:
• Bull hunts by controlled hunt only in
• Spike-only hunts during general
seasons with controlled hunt drawings
for any bull
• Alternate year spike/any bull hunting
• Limited zone tags for small clusters of
Others, like choose-your-weapon or differential tag fees (bull tags cost more) offered partial fixes, but several would have to be combined to reach the goal.
The teams considered that, in the units that need help, rifle hunters take 90 percent of the bulls harvested, and 75 percent of these are taken by residents. They found, as in past planning efforts, that hunters:
• are interested in the overall health and
quality of the herd
• want to have the opportunity to see
big bulls when they are hunting
• don’t want a controlled-hunt only
• don’t want “choose-your-weapon”
• don’t want to be restricted to spikes in
• don’t want to be restricted to hunting
elk (or big elk) every other year
Yet something had to give to alleviate pressure on units with herds in trouble.
About 5,000 people attended 30 open houses around the state in November 1996. The Department received about 4,000 written comments. A summary of those comments was presented to the Fish and Game Commission in December 1996.
Based on two years of research and public interaction, the Commission approved the A-B zone tag plan in July 1997. Regional staff held public meetings and open houses in September 1997 to take input on detailed season proposals, and reported to the Commission in October 1997.
The Commission set final season dates when it met in March 1998. Those dates and rules are printed in the 1998 Big Game Rules booklet.
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